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National Geographic Resolution is reflected against the icy Arctic waters. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Live From National Geographic Resolution: A Cruise That Strikes the Balance Between Luxury and Expedition

National Geographic Resolution is reflected against the icy Arctic waters. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)
Colleen McDaniel

Sep 6, 2023

Read time
10 min read

(11:35 a.m. EDT) -- New expedition cruise ships are launching each year at an almost breakneck pace. Fueled by interest in small-ship cruises to tough-to-reach destinations, the growth in expedition cruising means there is a ship and line perfect for just about anyone interested in visiting new spots in a fun and active way. (In fact, with new-to-expedition cruise lines popping up each year, Cruise Critic launched its first-ever Expedition Cruise Editor’s Picks Awards in 2022.)

While new cruise lines might seem like all the rage (in part because of budget pricing often associated with them), established companies like Lindblad Expeditions have been in the game for years and have created an experience guests come back to again and again.

Some cruise lines are heavy on luxury but light on expedition, while others offer challenging expedition experiences on ships that don’t have an ounce of luxury when it comes to the hardware.

We’re onboard National Geographic Resolution sailing our first Lindblad cruise in the Arctic to find out whether this ship strikes the perfect balance between luxury and expedition.

National Geographic Resolution Offers Beautiful and Functional Spaces

The art on National Geographic Resolution is surprising and interesting. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

It’s impossible not to appreciate the thoughtful work that went into designing National Geographic Resolution, a 145-passenger ship that debuted in 2022. It starts the second you board the ship and see the spectacular 3-D art installation, Flow, by Basia Goszczynska. The art uses upcycled white plastic bags arranged to look almost like moss, filling the reception area. (It’s also a first look at the ship’s emphasis on sustainability, which is a theme throughout.)

Curator Zaria Forman put together a beautiful and thought-provoking collection that takes inspiration from the polar regions the ship visits and even the animals you might see in those destinations. One of our favorites is a stairwell installation that draws from the hollow fur of the polar bear. It’s unusual to see an art collection so delightful on an expedition ship.

The ship is filled with comforts. One of our favorite spots onboard is The Sanctuary, a small spa area that includes two saunas, large relaxation room, massage treatment rooms, showers and changing area, and a yoga studio. (The studio has been used for stretching classes on our sailing, though no yoga has been offered.)

On a ship designed for exploration, the viewing space is exceptionally important, and National Geographic Resolution delivers in spades. The impressively stocked library sits at the very front of the ship on Deck 8, and it’s surrounded by windows as well as an observation deck that’s mere steps away. It allows guests to view the wildlife without braving the elements. In fact, you’ll find great spots for viewing throughout the ship, from the Ice Lounge (which has warming fire pits in the adjacent aft outdoor space) to the bow observation deck and even the bridge, which is open to passengers 24/7.

The mudroom on National Geographic Resolution offers a launching spot for all expeditions. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Of course, you can’t have an expedition ship without a mudroom, and on National Geographic Resolution, it’s called Basecamp and is located on Deck 3. Here, guests get ready for their daily activities. It also serves as the launching point for kayaking and Zodiac rides; passengers load into the inflatable boats to get to and from shore to simply start a sightseeing boat ride. The space includes lockers where passengers can store gear like boots and rain trousers, as well as water stations for filling bottles and even boot jacks to help you remove your boots.

Programming Takes Place in the Spectacular Ice Lounge

Guests gather for a lecture in the Ice Bar on National Geographic Resolution. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

When onboard, passengers probably will spend most of their time in the Ice Lounge, located aft on Deck 6. The large lounge includes a bar as well as a self-serve coffee/tea/hot chocolate station and photo studio. It’s a great space for quietly chilling during the day, taking in the scenery through floor-to-ceiling windows and helping yourself to a drink or a cookie or three.

This is also the spot for all of the lectures from the expedition team. It’s smartly set up in the round. In the middle is a circular lecture area, which the team on our sailing jokingly refers to as the “Circle of Truth.” All of the seating faces that circle, and dozens of TVs sit at eye level, so when the lecture needs supplemental info – photos of whales, charts and graphs, for example – guests are never more than a few feet away from the screens. Speakers use microphones so everyone can hear, and the lectures are simulcast on in-room TVs, so passengers can watch from their cabins.

We have 15 expedition guides on our sailing, with some photographers, general naturalists, bear and bird specialists and a cultural guide from Greenland who will speak about his country and people once we approach the region. (We’re also sailing far below capacity, with 60 guests, so it works out to about one guide per four passengers.) 

The evening cocktail hour takes place in the Ice Lounge, and service is excellent; you’ll never wait for more than a minute or two for a drink, and appetizers come often. The cocktail hour leads into a daily recap, as well as a look ahead at the next day. It’s also a chance for expedition guides to deliver bite-sized (no more than 5 minutes) lectures on things like mobile phone photography or geologic evolution of a specific region.

Only once on our sailing has there been an after-dinner activity (the captain’s excellent 2-hour lecture about the ship), which feels like a bit of a miss, as dinner finishes by 8:30, and there’s an energy from the guests looking for an outlet. Luckily, we’ve been spoiled by whale activity several nights on this cruise, which quickly fills the hours. But we’re craving something a bit more – trivia, games, stories or music – later into the night.

Expeditions are Challenging but Doable

Passengers take on a hike while National Geographic Resolution sits off of an island in Svalbard. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Lindblad has a long expedition heritage that dates back more than 50 years. It’s among the first expedition cruise lines and has a long history in the polar areas. 

Part of what makes an expedition cruise such an adventure is the idea of not really knowing what you’re going to do from one day to the next. We knew where we were boarding, and we also know where we’re disembarking, but everything in between is a bit of a mystery, influenced by the weather, the ice and where the wildlife is active. 

All of the places we’re stopping are accessible only by Zodiac. In some cases, Zodiac tours are the only options. But in others, walks or hikes are offered. The staff does a good job of describing the daily activities and giving passengers an idea of the difficulty to help them assess whether they’re up for the task. (All guests were required to have a doctor’s clearance in order to sail.) For the most part, the descriptions have been pretty accurate, though it’s often an estimate; some destinations are new to the expedition team, too!

One of our first group hikes took us to a small port near Hornsund, in Svalbard. This was a climb up fairly steep mountainside toward a waterfall, followed by a scramble down the soft, mossy slope toward a beach, where a replica of a former fur trapper hut sits. It finished at about 2 miles, with an elevation gain of about 400 feet. It required some surefootedness that made it somewhat more difficult than some people expected. We also took on a scenic hike up and around Bear Island (we saw no bears, but hundreds of thousands of birds), which included spectacular vistas. For this one, we elected to do the strenuous hike that allowed stops for photos and breath-catching, but other options included a strenuous, no-stops-allowed hike, a photo walk and a “medium” hiking option. Both days included some incredible views of mountains, fjords and glaciers.

We also did some kayaking, which gave us a couple hours in the water paddling around a glacier on our own. We loved being outdoors and moving our bodies, but we finished feeling like we would have preferred to have guides join us and give us a rundown of what we were seeing along the way and answering questions. (This wasn’t an option for any of the kayaking sessions.) While we’re fairly experienced kayakers, we did notice there wasn’t a lot of instruction, and some novices in our group were a bit uneasy about being on their own.

Overall, we have really enjoyed the expedition options, which are a bit more challenging than we’ve done on some other expedition cruises. We’ve picked the more strenuous options and have found they deliver on the challenge promise. Most passengers onboard have great self-awareness about their abilities and pick accordingly, and they’ve been rewarded with a lot of fun.

Dining is Exceptional and Ties Into Sustainability

Meals at the Cook's Nook on National Geographic Resolution focus on sustainability. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

We’ve been wowed by the food on National Geographic Resolution, which is simple in concept but complex in execution. The ship really only has two restaurants: Two Seven Zero (essentially, the main dining room), and the more casual Tupaia.

Each meal offers just enough options to keep it interesting but not so much as to waste food, something on which the ship (and company) are deeply focused. You even pick your dinner at breakfast or lunch so the culinary team can better estimate portions.

Guests can experience the Cook’s Nook chef’s table, which is a multicourse wine-pairing meal that takes place in Tupaia. This is offered each night, but guests must be invited to join. (We’ll all have a chance to eat there on our sailing.) The meal is 100% focused on sustainability, with the ingredients sourced from the scraps that typically would be thrown away after meal prep. The innovative take creates a perfectly portioned and creative meal that feels nothing like leftovers.

We have yet to have a meal we didn’t like onboard, and we also love that you can order half portions, so you can try several items without feeling like you’re wasting anything. The entire approach to dining feels “expedition” but the level of cuisine screams luxury.

National Geographic Resolution is Mostly Inclusive

Guests can spend the night in an "igloo" on National Geographic Resolution. (Photo: Colleen McDaniel)

Like many expedition ships, National Geographic Resolution is mostly inclusive, which makes for a seamless journey once you board: You don’t have to reach for your key card to pay for virtually anything, and you’re not left guessing.

Though the list of inclusions for Lindblad depends on the ship, on National Geographic Resolution, your cruise fare covers the cost of all expeditions – including kayaking, which you have to pay extra for on a lot of other lines that visit the poles – drinks, crew tips, meals and a charter flight from Oslo to Svalbard (or vice versa, depending on your booked trip). You’ll also get parkas, which you can keep, as well as water bottles. In a bit of a surprise, boot and rain trouser rental are not included. If you want to use the ship’s boots and waterproof pants – a necessity on an expedition cruise like this – you’ll pay extra. On other ships, we’ve seen these items included in the cruise fare, which is a convenience because boots can take up quite a bit of space in your suitcase. 

It also includes the line’s unique camera equipment borrowing program. Guests can borrow from the ship’s collection of OM camera equipment at no charge, though there is a strict “you break it, you buy it” policy. The program fits perfectly with the line’s long association with National Geographic, which emphasizes photography. (We have a number of shutterbugs on our sailing who have brought along some incredible equipment of their own.)

Another inclusion is a stay in one the ship’s two igloos: glass enclosures that look like igloos, found on the top deck of the ship. Stays here are open first to suite guests, then to others if space permits. We enjoyed our stay there, which gave us a unique opportunity to view wildlife and feel connected to the Arctic. Sleeping in the land of the midnight sun is a bit challenging this time of year, but provided sleep masks helped.

Also not included but worth pointing out is internet. All guests get an hour for free, but will pay if they want more. Our 14-night sailing came at a cost of $350 for the full sailing, for two devices. We found the rate reasonable, especially because the Starlink internet is lightning fast. I had meetings via video with our office, did a couple of Peloton workouts without a problem. I even uploaded photos and videos to a cloud server as fast as I could on land.

With its newest ship, National Geographic Resolution, Lindblad has found the sweet spot between expedition and luxury. It feels accessible, yet challenging, and the onboard amenities offer the right mix of pampering and educational excitement that make you understand the uniqueness of an expedition cruise.

Updated September 06, 2023
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